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Cab company, Fasano agree: fare unfair

United Cab is dropping charges against an 83-year-old Port Richey woman who was arrested after refusing to pay her $117 fare.

"It should never have gotten that far," said Nancy Castellano, general manager of United Cab in Tampa.

Catherine Saloma declined to pay driver Christopher Igbokwe after he drove her from Tampa International Airport to her daughter's Port Richey home Saturday.

Saloma said that when she boarded the white Ford Aerostar minivan, she thought the ride would cost $25 to $30, the price of shuttle services she has taken in the past.

But when she arrived at her destination and Igbokwe told her the price, she said her heart stopped.

"I said, he's crazy," Saloma said. "Nuts."

And she flat refused to pay the $117 _ even after a Pasco County sheriff's deputy arrived and warned that her failure to pay would result in an arrest.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he was outraged to read about Saloma's arrest in Monday's Pasco Times. He called Castellano and urged her to drop the charges.

"I made it very clear to United that I thought the price was outrageous," said Fasano, whose mother is also 83. "It made me think not only of my mother but of all senior citizens. I thought the cab driver had a responsibility to tell an 83-year-old woman the approximate cost of driving to Pasco County up front."

Castellano apologized to Saloma on Monday, offering the Brooklyn retiree free transportation, "anywhere, any time" in the future. Pasco County prosecutor Mike Halkitis said he agreed not to pursue the charges if that is Castellano's desire.

"I am not happy about it at all," Castellano said of Saturday's arrest. The driver went too far in calling the authorities, she said, and could have resolved it another way. She could not say if Igbokwe would face disciplinary action.

Asked whether the $117 was an overcharge, Castellano said she understood the driver had to do a lot of waiting.

United Cab charges a $1.75 flat rate for passengers and $2 per mile after that. There is also a 35-cent charge for every 70 seconds the cab is left waiting while a passenger gets out.

Saloma said the cab carried her from the airport, stopped at her house in Port Richey and then drove to her daughter's house, about six-tenths of a mile farther. By the most direct route _ which Castellano said she understood the cab driver took _ the trip would have been about 35 miles.

With 15 minutes of wait time factored in, the total charge would have come to about $76, using United's per-mile rate. To get to $117, the driver would had to have waited more than two hours for Saloma or taken a more circuitous route _ or a combination of the two.

Asked about the discrepancy, Castellano said she would have to look into the situation further. She did not return a follow-up phone call. Igbokwe did not respond to messages left at his number Sunday. On Monday, his voice mail box was full.

When the Times called five cab companies to ask for an estimate for the 35-mile trip, dispatchers at four _ including United _ said the cost would be $75 to $80. Shuttle and limo services such as Astro Limo, which Saloma said she often takes, charge a flat rate of $20 to $45 for airport pickups to Port Richey.

"I'd sure like to get the driver in and find out what the story is," said Greg Cox, executive director of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, the agency that regulates taxicabs and limousines.

Cox said that whenever the commission investigates complaints of overcharging, the truth is often somewhere in between the customer's account and the driver's recollection.

"I don't know of a whole lot of ways they can jump the meter up," Cox said. But he said the commission would be looking into it.

For Saloma's part, she said Monday she was just glad the situation had a happy ending. But she said she didn't think she would be taking Castellano up on her offer of free transportation.

"I wouldn't do that," Saloma said. "I'm not a vindictive person. I would feel funny that they would do me a favor."

GETTING A RIDE

Taxis

35-mile ride from

airport to Port Richey+ Rate per mile++

United Cab $75-$80 $1.75 base + $2/mi.

(813) 253-2424

Yellow Cab of Tampa $76 $1.75 base + $2/mi.

(813) 253-8871

Checkered Cab $76 $1.75 base + $2/mi.

(813) 229-1888

Americab $76 $1.75 base + $2/mi.

(813) 887-4777

Cab Plus Car Service $80-$85 $3.50 base + $2.25/mi.

(813) 936-2525

+ Fare estimate given over the phone.

++ Cabs typically also charge about 35 cents for every 70 seconds when the taxi is stopped during the trip.

Limo/Shuttle Service

Tampa International Airport to Port Richey, one-way

SuperShuttle $25

1-800-282-6817

Silver Streak $45

(727) 845-1834

Astro Limo $25

1-800-803-3262

Signature Car Service (doesn't do airport pickups, only dropoffs)

$45

(727) 944-5415

Pony Express $20

(727) 848-7557

Compiled by staff writer Rebecca Catalanello

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